The paddle steamer Premier was built in 1846 by Denny of Dumbarton for the Dumbarton Steam Boat Company for their services on the Clyde . As built, she was 133ft in length, only about twenty feet longer than Kingswear Castle but, unlike her more recent cousin, was designed for extensive sea-going work. She cost £3,600 to build on which Denny made a profit of £223 19s 9d.
In 1852, Premier was bought by Weymouth solicitor Mr Tizard who subsequently joined forces with Capt Cosens and a Mr Drew. Cosens and Company was eventually incorporated in 1876 after which larger vessels steadily joined the fleet relegating Premier to ever more local trips. The picture above, taken in 1898, shows Premier alongside the slightly larger paddle steamer Victoria of 1884 at the Pleasure Pier at Weymouth, both vessels sporting the Cosens livery of the day with black funnels with bell tops.
A view from the other side of Weymouth Harbour showing the Cosens slipway on which most of the steamers received their annual maintenance. The slipway was not really man enough for the very largest units of the Cosens fleet which usually went further afield to Poole, Southampton and sometimes, particularly in later years, to the Admiralty slipways at the Royal Naval Dockyard at Portland for slipping.
With larger paddle steamers running on the longer routes, Premier became very much associated with trips to Portland and around the warships in Portland Harbour which became an almost daily diet for her each summer. Postcards of her at other locations, like that above taken at Lulworth Cove, are therefore quite rare.
In 1937 the Devon based paddle steamer Duke of Devonshire of 1896 came on the market and Cosens bought her, renaming her Consul thereby sealing the fate of the veteran Premier which became surplus to requirements . The picture above shows her being towed through the Town Bridge at Weymouth in April 1938 on her way to the breakers on the River Thames. The bow of the laid up Emperor of India is on the right of the picture.
Typical of the smaller local paddle steamers of her day, Premier lacked the glamour of the long distance coastal and cross channel flyers and may sometimes have been given a rather condescending glance from the decks of the much larger Majestic, Emperor of India, and Monarch or the Southampton based Balmoral and Lorna Doone as they sped past her in Weymouth Bay en route to Cherbourg, Torquay, Bournemouth or the Isle of Wight whilst she quietly set off for yet another trip “around the warboats” in Portland Harbour.
But Premier had size on her side. She may not have been very big or very fast nor did she sail to far off and exotic places but she was very economical. And those with an eye for such things might have noticed her smiling contentedly as she flapped her way down Weymouth Harbour each morning past her grander relations laid up and idle at their moorings for most of the year waiting for the few peak weeks of the season when there were sufficient intending passengers to justify their size and commensurate operating costs.
For one thing was certain. The Premier had steam in her boiler and passengers on her deck earning her keep on many more days each year than they did. And her career of ninety one years, eighty five of which were spent at Weymouth, was longer by far than any other excursion paddle steamer that I can think of anywhere in Britain. So perhaps she had the last laugh after all!
Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.